At my office/coffee shop/bookstore, sitting at the computer bar at the side of the room, laptop plugged into an outlet beneath, iced Atzec mocha against the wall where I hope it won’t spill, two industrious critique partners on my right.
I am scrimshanking.
The spell checker says scrimshanking isn’t a word. That’s what it knows.
Scrimshankingis a word, because I saw it on Dictionary.com five minutes ago, just in time to use it.
We are sixteen days into National Novel Writing Month. Writers following the plan are 26, 762 words into their projected 50,000-word novels.
I am 75,000 words behind.
I DO NOT WORK THE NANO WAY.
Someday that will sink in.
It sinks in every year, but someday it will sink in.
NaNoWriMo –National Novel Writing Month–the month* in which participants vow to write a 50,000-word novel–and some of them do–began yesterday.
The goal–if you want to reach 50,000 words and win NaNoWriMo (which from this point on will be called NaNo), you need to write an average of 1667 words a day.
I’ve registered for NaNo–there’s a website–at least three times, maybe four. Unfortunately, every year, as soon as I signed on, I became claustrophobic and began to hyperventilate. Mentally, not physically, but mentally is bad enough. There was something about having to write a novel in a month that made me feel the walls were closing in, as if I had to do something I didn’t want to do, as if someone were forcing me to write that novel in a month. No one was forcing me, but seeming can feel a lot like being.
For example, consider what Hamlet** says to his mother the first time we see them together. He’s been going around wearing customary suits of inky black day after day, and suspiring all over the palace, and although his mother knows he’s grieving for his dead father, she says everybody does that at one time or another, and asks why he seems so much more miserable than others in the same situation.
In other words, this isn’t put on, he’s genuinely perturbed. Of course, there’s more to it than he lets on: After his father died, before the funeral baked meats, like the casseroles and tuna sandwiches the neighbors brought in, had been consumed, his mother went and married her husband’s brother, who doesn’t have much to recommend him. That would make any prince suspire. And Hamlet must be irritated that his mother is so clueless. She asks a silly question, and he sasses her. “Nay, it is; I know not “seems,” is, in modern terms, something like, Well, d’oh.
Anyway, back to NaNo. The mere act of registering gives me a serious case of the fantods.
Hamlet could have addressed his fantods by confronting his mother and his uncle and asking straight out what in the world they thought they were doing, but instead he takes the passive-aggressive route and pretends he’s unhinged.
I, on the other hand, have, every year, faced my dilemma head on: I’ve dropped out. No novel, no problem.
This year, however, I’m confronting it by plowing on through. I shall, and I will, write 50,000 words by November 30. I’ll go from beginning to middle to end, I’ll submit my scrambled manuscript through the NaNo website, and I’ll win.
On the basis of my experience, both past and present, I’ve come up with some helpful hints I’m happy to share:
After you register for NaNo, be proactive. Fill out your profile. You don’t have to use your real name. Title your book. It doesn’t matter what, just name it and record it on the website. Join a community. Then write a synopsis. If you don’t have a plot, wing it. Nobody’s going to read it, and it might end up working out. Complete these steps and you’ll receive badges. I got one for filling out my profile, one for joining my community (I told them where I live), and one for “creating” my novel. I take issue with that creating business, but if it makes them happy to think so…
Badges make you feel better, so award yourself some for personal achievement. I gave myself a Plantser badge, because I usually have to write for a while before my characters tell me what they want to do (flying by the seat of my pants, or pantsing), but then, once things get going, I come up with a rudimentary framework (plotting). Plotter + pantser = Plantser. I also gave myself a Rebel badge to declare myself a NaNo Rebel!, state my belief “that rules are meant to be broken,” and admit that on November 1, I’ll “start writing anything but a brand new novel.” I could not have phrased that better myself. Plantser and Rebel might seem contradictory, but who cares.
Relax. Getting all het up won’t help. By Thanksgiving you’ll be so antsy your family will make you take your plate and eat out on the porch.
Now for the Don’ts:
On November 1, don’t let a podiatrist operate on your foot. It won’t hurt, but it’ll take a chunk out of your day that you should spend working on your novel.
On November 1, don’t have two meetings, even if they promise to be interesting and you want to go. See #1 regarding chunks.
On November 1, when you want to quit, don’t. If you feel the queasies coming on, follow Eloise’s lead: Say, “Pooh pooh to you,”*** and get over it. (Eloise and Hamlet’s mother have a lot in common.)
Don’t schedule the Sisters in Crime chapter newsletter you edit (and write) to post on November 1. Before you post, you’ll have to tweak, and you’ll tweak everything, even things that don’t need tweaking, and you’ll add content, and it’s already too long, and it’ll be 9:00 p. m. before you press Publish.
Don’t download the trial version of Scrivener**** that’s available to every NaNo participant. Even if you’ve used it before, you won’t remember how it works, because it’s big and complicated, and you don’t need it right now anyway, you can get it later, and MS Word is sufficient, and if you have Scrivener, you’ll open it and work out how to color code, and then you’ll spend the rest of November color coding everything from plot points to red herrings to subplots to your cats, if you can figure out how (blue for Ernest’s gray coat, much of which currently adorns my sweats, and rust for William’s elegant cream tabbiness).
On November 2, don’t open your email. Don’t open Facebook. For goodness’ sake, don’t open your blog. Opening your blog will lead to writing a post, any post, because you’ll do everything in your power, even write, to get out of making up 1667 words, which by now have increased to 3334 words because you had surgery and two meetings and a newsletter on November 1. Email might not pose a problem– it depends on how popular you are–but Facebook will take you directly to Candy Crush and you’ll be lost. (Candy Crush Saga, Candy Crush Soda Saga, and Candy Crush Jelly Saga, all of which you sneered at during the years sanity prevailed.)
There are other d0’s and don’ts, but I’m too tired to remember what they are. Except for the one about getting enough sleep. Last night, I didn’t. A nap is inevitable, but there goes another chunk of writing time.
Anyway, that’s my take on NaNoWriMo. Contrary to the what you’ve read here, I have a positive attitude. I’m going to make it.
Because I want to call myself a winner. I want to experience the satisfaction of a job well done. I want to finish a novel so I can go back to short stories where I belong. I want to be a winner. I want a tee-shirt.
But above all, I want Scrivener. I want Scrivener when I create, plot, organize, research, file, write, revise, prepare a final document. I want to join the legions who say Scrivener is the greatest gift to writers since the eraser. I want the 50% discount on Scrivener that winning will earn me.
But above all else, I want Scrivener so I can color code.
* A man invented NaNoWriMo. We know this because it takes place in November.
** For a quotation, an example, a whatever, go to Hamlet. Hamlet and Mark Twain. Everything you need is there.
*** I think Eloise says “Pooh pooh to you.” Somebody says it.
****Scrivener is a sponsor of National Novel Writing Month.
I’ve now written about 1370 words. Only 1964 to go before midnight and I’ll be caught up. Blog posts don’t normally count, but if your main character participates in NaNoWriMo and writes a blog, they do.
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. ~ Herman Melville
National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo–started yesterday. Because I can’t resist challenges, I’d already registered as a participant. All I had to do was begin. Boot up the laptop, write 1667 words every day for a month, and pat myself on the back. And publicize my accomplishment. Publicizing allows other people to pat your back, too.
Here I must digress. 1667 reminds me of a story:
When my library converted to an automated circulation system, the staff typed, barcoded, laminated, and distributed several zillion library cards. A couple of days later, a freshman girl appeared at the circ desk and told me she wanted a different card.
She pointed to the barcode. “This one is against my religion.”
I examined it for heresy: # 1666.
I was tempted to say–quite reasonably–“No, dear. The number 666 is against your religion. This is 1-666, a different thing entirely. Now run along and have a nice day.”
Instead, I said, “It’ll take about five minutes.”
Some things aren’t worth arguing about.
NaNo isn’t worth arguing about either, and that’s what NaNo makes me do. Argue. With myself.
Every year, I sign up to write 50,000 words in thirty days, and as soon as November 1 arrives, I tie myself in knots.
NaNo is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be about freedom. It’s about pouring words onto paper. It’s about turning off the inner critic and going with the flow.
I’ve never been good at fun. And I like to do things right the first time so I don’t have to do them over. These are not the best traits for a NaNo participant. Or for any aspiring writer.
Here’s another story. About ten years ago, I read Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels. I’d loved her Girl With a Pearl Earring, but Falling Angels was better. Exquisite.
Later I read an article in which Chevalier told how she’d written the novel. She’d completed the manuscript but felt something about it–she couldn’t say exactly what–was wrong. So she set it aside. Then she read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which is told from multiple points of view, and saw potential. She completely rewrote her manuscript, changing the third-person narrative to multiple first-person points of view.
Chevalier’s description of her “process” impressed me, but for the wrong reason. I should have focused on her dedication, her craftsmanship, her openness, her perseverance in the pursuit of art. Instead–and I’m ashamed to admit this–I put down that article thinking, “How could she bear to write an entire manuscript,draft after draft,hundreds of pages, and then cast it aside and write the whole thing all over again?”
I had hardly enough energy to read about it, much less to contemplate doing it.
Well, there’s my dirty little secret, spilled all over cyberspace.
I’m not lazy. I just have an active imagination. I become exhausted in advance of need.
And the thought of the NaNo variety of freedom leaves me in shackles of my own design.
Gosh, it’s so nice to have a blog. There’s nothing I like better than sharing my neuroses with people I don’t know. And some I do.
On the other hand–looking at the subject from, as it were, a different point of view–it’s possible that my neuroses are responsible for everything I write. For my compulsion to return to the keyboard. For my love-hate relationship with NaNo. For my ability to jabber all over a blog and then have the fantods at the sight of a blank MS Word screen.
I started this post intending to thank my critique partners for encouraging me to dive into NaNoWriMo, letting the devil and my 3400-word deficit take the hindmost. Unfortunately, in the course of self-psychoanalysis, I wandered off topic, and now I can’t think of an appropriate transition.
This is November. NaNoWriMo. Freedom. Death to transitions! Throw convention to the wind! Write bad drafts! Worse drafts! Quantity, not quality, counts.
So thanks, Austin Mystery Writers, for aiding me in this damp, drizzly November in my soul.
And thanks, dear reader, for enduring another 700+ words of self-indulgent cliched prattle.
Writing about the pain of writing is such sweet sorrow, I could prattle on till it be morrow.
That’s about 400 words short of today’s goal. I might write more before midnight.
I might go to bed asap.
I’m posting when I should be working on the novel (or sleeping) because last night, in an excess of enthusiasm, I yielded to impulse and registered for NaBloPoMo: National Blog Posting Month. The goal is to post every day. I’ve tried it a couple of times and always bailed out before the end of the month. But this is the first time I’ve participated in November, which is the official month. Bloggers who post every day between now and November 30 are eligible for a prize.
I don’t know what the prize is, nor do I care. It isn’t about the prize. It never is. When I take a cardiac stress test, I stay on the treadmill longer than I have to. With the doctor saying, “You can stop now if you want to,” and my legs turning to rubber, I keep right on walking.
It also isn’t about good sense.
NaBloPoMo has a website, and I could post there as well as here. If I wanted to stay awake long enough to do it.
This morning I dropped in on Facebook and How Many Pages Did You Write Today? was passing the word about the MiniWriMo. It works on the same principle as NaNoWriMo, but instead of shooting for 50,000 words this month, its participants shoot for 250 words a day–one page. That I thought I could do.
So that’s what’s going on.
I’ll as many words I can (at least 250) for the novel, and I’ll post here, every day in November.
I’ve spent the past week writing and rewriting a post about attending the Texas Book Festival. No matter how many times I revised it, it sounded dull and complaining. Actually, it sounded worse than complaining, but if I use the word I have in mind, I would be crossing a line drawn in the sand years ago by both my grandmother and Emily Post, a Rubicon of sorts, and then who knows what might happen to my personal lexicon. It’s a slippery slope.
Suffice it to say the day was HOT and we got the last space in the parking garage, on the eighth level, and then found the elevator out of order. On the plus side, I visited with Sisters in Crime members Russ Hall and Sylvia Dickey Smith and got an autographed copy of Sylvia’s latest novel, A War of Her Own. On the minus side, Russ and Sylvia thought it was just as HOT as I did. They’d been inside that tent for two days as opposed to my two minutes. After taking a couple of pictures, I suggested that David get the car and pick me up. He did. He reported he climbed fourteen flights of eight steps each. I thanked him and turned the AC up to gale force. We ended at the Magnolia, where David got his omelet.
It still sounds like complaining.
I’ve signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month–which begins November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel by midnight on November 30. Write-ins are planned all over the Austin area at coffee shops, bookstores, and libraries. The Writers’ League of Texas will hold a lock-down (or maybe a lock-in) one night from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. I’ll go to write-ins but not the lock-down. I get claustrophobic thinking about being locked down, even metaphorically. It sounds too much like getting an MRI. It also sounds a lot like graduate school. Been there, done that.
Modified Rapture! I just checked the WLT Facebook page to find the date of the lock-down and instead found the sentence I wrote last Sunday at the TBF. On my way out, I picked up a prompt at the Writers’ League table, sat on the curb and wrote the rest of the sentence, then tossed it into the fishbowl. And voila! There it appears, among the Top 10. It’s #8. The honor is not on a par with publication of a book, of course, but it’ll do quite nicely for the time being.
To prepare for November 1, I’m reading No Plot? No Problem: A Low-Stress, High Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel, by Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo. He offers many valuable suggestions for surviving the month. One, however, should be excised before the book goes into another printing, namely the section headed “Eating Your Way to 50,000 Words,” which includes the sentence, “Allowing yourself loads of restaurant meals, sugary treats, and exotic beverages is the best way to keep your spirits high during the exhausting mental acrobatic routines you’ll be pulling off next month as you write.”
Restaurant meals and exotic beverages might work, but if I want to keep my spirits high, I’ll stay away from sugar. Last week is proof. Again. After a period of abstinence from white stuff, I ate a slice of bread, and in five days I was tripping down the primrose path arm-in-arm with a jar of red plum jam. It was not coincidence that the day after my rendezvous with said jam jar, I decided I should make a bonfire of all my pages, destroy my files, and give up writing altogether.
Lacking the energy to do all that, I took the pledge one more time, ate meat and green stuff, and the next day was back at the laptop.
My advice to anyone trying to do anything in thirty days: stay off the sugar and most of its relatives.
I have decades of experience in this area. With every paper I wrote in grad school, I put on five pounds and then spent several weeks taking it off. Sometimes losing it took longer. I carried Lord Tennyson around for months.
To Mr. Baty’s credit, the photo on the back cover of his book suggests that he’s never had a problem with sugar. If he were told of its poisonous properties, he might add a footnote saying readers should consult their medical professionals before eating their way to 50,000 words.
It’s after 2:00 a.m., and I swore Saturday morning that I would be in bed before midnight. I need to end this post but can’t figure out how to do that. Possibly because the post has no point. Probably because it’s after 2:00 a.m.